By Adam Szreter in Madrid
Two goals from Raúl González and a Luis Figo special put the holders Real Madrid CF in good heart for the second leg of this UEFA Champions League quarter-final, but one from Ruud van Nistelrooij means that Manchester United FC can still entertain realistic hopes of reaching next month's final on their home ground.
Both sides were at full strength for perhaps the most eagerly anticipated European tie since the clubs last met three seasons ago at the same stage of the competition. Then the Spaniards won after a goalless draw here, and much of United's pre-match talk had focused on the need for an away goal this time. With an expectant quiet around the famous old stadium, the opening minutes belonged to Madrid but the visitors got into their stride with Paul Scholes drawing a fine save from Iker Casillas and Van Nistelrooij shooting just over.
It was therefore somewhat out of the blue when Madrid took a 12th-minute lead, but Figo's goal was memorable. Chasing across field from right to left, the Portuguese international exchanged passes with Zinedine Zidane on the edge of the United area before curling a sublime shot beyond Fabien Barthez into the top right-hand corner of the United net.
Suddenly the Bernabéu was no longer silent but if the goal had been greeted with roars of approval they were almost as nothing compared to the howls of discontent when referee Anders Frisk turned down a penalty appeal from Ronaldo after a challenge by Wes Brown.
Raúl finishes neatly
But it was not long before there was more for the home crowd to celebrate. This time it was Rio Ferdinand who lost out to Raúl as the Champion League's all-time leading scorer turned adeptly past the England defender and placed Zidane's precise pass to Barthez's right for his 42nd goal in the competition.
Suddenly it was looking ominous for United as Madrid poured forward. Barthez spared them further punishment with two spectacular saves, one from a stinging Roberto Carlos drive, the other from Brown's inadvertent back pass. Meanwhile Van Nistelrooij, this season's leading Champions League marksman, shot into the side-netting after a rare break from Ryan Giggs.
Van Nistelrooij record
After the break bad turned to worse for United within three minutes. Figo, on the kind of form that made him the World Player of the Year prior to his team-mates Zidane and Ronaldo, teased Brown on the right before finding Raúl on the edge of the area and his left-foot drive flew past Barthez to put Madrid 3-0 up. However, United hit back instantly. Giggs's close-range shot from Gary Neville's low cross was parried by Casillas but Van Nistelrooij nodded in the rebound for his eleventh goal of the campaign, a Champions League record.
Two minutes later he might have pulled another back for United as gaps appeared in the Madrid rearguard but this time Casillas smothered his attempt. There were shots and half-chances aplenty for both sides thereafter as United gained in confidence, but perhaps the most significant moments were bookings for Neville and Scholes which ruled both players out of the return in a fortnight's time.